What is spyware?

Published: Oct. 7, 2005 at 8:12 PM CDT|Updated: Dec. 14, 2005 at 4:19 PM CST
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What is Spyware?
Spyware is a broad term used for software that collects personal information or changes the configuration of your computer without your consent. The information collected can be used for identity theft, fraud, or spamming.

Signs of Spyware infection:

  • You see pop-up ads even when you are not using the internet.
  • Your homepage has changed and you didn't change it.
  • New toolbars appear in your browser that you did not install.
  • Your computer becomes slow and unresponsive.
  • Your computer begins to crash often.

What is the difference in Spyware and Adware?
Spyware programs actively record user information and return that information to it's creator without the user's consent. Spyware is often malicious, intrusive, and destructive. Some spyware programs will even download and install other spyware programs or viruses.

Adware is often bundled with "freeware" or "shareware" programs that are available online, and is usually installed with a user's permission. Many "freeware" or "shareware" programs include Adware to pay for program development. Having the adware installed is considered the trade off for use of the free program. Adware is similar to Spyware in that it does collect personal information to send back to its creator.

How do I prevent Spyware infection?

  • Regularly update your computer with the latest patches and security updates. Most spyware exploits known problems that can be prevented with a patch.
  • Install a firewall. Firewalls prevent information from moving into or out of your computer without your consent. Even if your computer becomes infected with Spyware, a firewall can prevent it from transmitting your personal information back to its creator.
  • Read your installation agreements. Many times spyware or adware is bundled with games or other prgrams available for download. If a program has Adware in it, it will be listed in the Installation agreement.
  • Use a 3rd party browser such as Firefox or Mozilla. Most spyware is written to take advantage of the wide use of Internet Explorer. It's not that Internet Explorer is unsafe, it's just a bigger target because of its near universal usage. There are Spyware programs that target Firefox and other browsers, but they are much more of a rarity.
  • Install Spyware sweepers. There are sweepers available at most software retailers as well as several free programs from companies such as Lavasoft, Spybot and Microsoft. Be very careful installing spyware sweepers, as many Spyware programs pose as sweepers. Contact a computer professional if you have any doubts about the sweeper you would like to use.